City government

Council to consider water subsidy for low-income households

By From page A6 | March 19, 2013

With substantial water rate increases on the immediate horizon for all Davis residents, the City Council will receive a proposal Tuesday night on its consent calendar to launch a program that will assist some ratepayers who may have a more difficult time bearing the heavier costs.

The proposed “Lifeline Water Utility Rate Assistance Program” would offer qualifying homeowners $10 per month to help pay their water bills. The council is expected to discuss moving from bimonthly to monthly billing later this year.

The average water bill in Davis runs about $34 per month.

Per the council’s direction from the last time it considered this type of program, city staff would determine who qualifies based on the PG&E CARE (California Alternate Rates for Energy) program, which gives approved residents discounts on their energy bills.

Under those guidelines, a single resident homeowner earning less than $22,340 annually would qualify for the program. At the “larger family” end of the spectrum, a household with eight or more residents with a total income less than $77,780 per year also would qualify.

The program would not extend to renters.

The full staff report — prepared by Herb Niederberger, the city’s general manager of utilities, development and operations; Dianna Jensen, principal civil engineer; and Jacques DeBra, utilities manager — with a list of all qualification levels, can be found on the city’s website at www.cityofdavis.org under City Council Meeting Agendas.

The staff proposal requires the council to allocate $33,600 to the program, or enough to accommodate 250 households in Davis out of the 1,120 accounts that the city believes would qualify for the assistance.

The city has not yet determined how it will choose who receives the discount should more than 250 individuals apply.

“Staff shall establish a process to accept and select qualifying households, which shall include a provision that, should more than 250 households apply and qualify, the households shall be selected by random lottery,” the staff report said.

The funding for the program will be generated by delinquency fees assessed on water customer accounts. Under state law, the city cannot pull money from the water fund to pay for such a program.

Staff defends this decision in its report by pointing to the fact that if renters were factored in, about 5,500 individuals would qualify for the program. As a consequence, only 5 percent of the community would be able to receive the $10-per-month assistance.

Additionally, those renting units in affordable housing complexes have rents capped by law, leaving them largely unaffected to the increases.

Market-rate renters, however, would be at the mercy of landlords if they decide to pass along their own water costs.

“Staff views adding renters to the program will be problematic as it will require substantial administrative oversight of the landlord/tenant relationship as part of implementation,” the report adds.

The Lifeline plan is proposed as a one-year pilot program.

— Reach Tom Sakash at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected], (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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